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Stretching for a Miracle

By on October 28, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
Dani Schafer-Cloke has filled one wall in her Wenatchee High School classroom with dozens of musical comedy posters she’s personally been connected with as participant or audience member. Photo by Mike Irwin

A first time for everything: Team-building teacher takes on a new director role

By Susan Lagsdin

It was a Wednesday night in early October. As Dani Schafer-Cloke came striding into the room, she flashed a hello to a few old friends, looked around warmly at the group, then found a chair at the long table.

After an enthusiastic welcome to the 17 actors seated around her, she said, “I want to remind you that I’ve never directed anything before, so I’m gonna make some mistakes. Feel free to let me know if you have any ideas as we go along.”

The girl’s got game.

There was nary an eye-rolling, nary a murmur from the veteran actors. Just open smiles. The cast of the Performing Art Center’s 1940’s radio play, Miracle On 34th Street knew they were in excellent hands, because Dani’s reputation preceded her. 

At 47, she’s been a coach, an organizer, a teacher and a performer for years, and she knows how to get things done, and done well.

Juggling favorite community activities with her career and spending time with husband Chris, also a WHS teacher, takes impeccable scheduling, sometimes of an 80-hour week. Her working philosophy in all those areas is simple. She said, “Every day we’re going to accomplish something, and even if I don’t reach my personal goal, I can probably help someone else to reach theirs.”

When she was asked to direct this show, for instance she determined that even people with very small ensemble parts will be given a moment to “shine big.” (Disclosure: this interviewer is one of those people.)

Dani said the 500 tickets for the PAC’s traditional holiday radio show sell out fast, whatever the script, and “that says a lot about how well it’s been directed in the past years. Everyone seems to know it is so much fun to watch, and so much fun to be in.”

She knows her own strengths, and she’s learned to delegate judiciously. Dani said, “In this theater community you can surround yourself with really good people, and they do amazing things.”

Dani is grateful to have both returning voice actors and the essential veteran Foley crew, for hands-on sound effects, of Kylee Boggs from the PAC and James Wallace, auditorium manager for Wenatchee High School. 

She enlisted help with casting and for adding dialogue and has an assistant director at the ready for additional problem solving.

Dani says about the challenges she sets for herself, like directing this show, “I want to learn and try new things — if you don’t try something new every once in a while, you’re not really living.” 

In the past 10 years she’s taken on several big projects, each one a stretch at first and evolving to a comfortable use of her talents.

She loved her first Leavenworth Christmas lighting and so was glad to take on the proffered task of emceeing it every December, introducing performers and revving up holiday spirit in the crowds of visitors. 

Recently, an intensive workshop on teaching the Holocaust led her to plan humanities-based curriculum for her WHS students, a class with new literature and new research. She’s also just taken on the role of ASB advisor.

And her admiration for the directors of Full Circle Theatre made it easy to say yes, so (first time) she successfully created choreography for July’s The Tempest

Dani’s primary art focus has been vocal, and local roles have used her well: she’s been in the Follies, she’s played a Greek goddess for Music Theatre of Wenatchee, one of a quartet of nuns and a rollerskating teen for Leavenworth Summer Theater and a sexy cabaret chanteuse for Hot August Nights.

Refreshingly frank about her talents and aspirations, she said “I’m not a star, but I love helping others shine… and I am very comfortable working in ensembles.”

She is passionate about team building, another way Dani’s career and volunteer life are intertwined. She coaches the WHS cheerleading squad, which she sees as not just a game-night attraction but a positive voice in their school and city. “At the start of the season it’s clear these are all highly individual students, and I try to bring them together for one common purpose.”

The same thing happens on stage in any choir, chorus, cast or crew. 

The common purpose for the big ensemble cast of Miracle on 34th Street is to re-create the script’s blend of kitsch, humor and life lesson into fast-paced and lively entertainment, both audio and visual. 

Live radio means multi-voice performance with dozens of sound effects and dicey by-the-second timing, and that means precision teamwork.

When asked what about theater gives her the most pleasure, Dani said, “I love the feeling of accomplishment when every part of a production comes together.” 

This fall, surrounding herself with other experts and clear in her purpose, Dani is galvanizing the cast and meeting the challenge of staging this next big show. 

Miracle On 34th Street, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Numerica Performing Arts Center. Tickets: $13-$23, www.numericapac.org.

Must be 5 years or older to be part of the live studio audience.

Will be rebroadcast on Christmas Eve at 7:30 p.m. 

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